Good Idea, Bad Idea: Thrice-Monthly Amazing Spider-Man

Last week Marvel announced that it was canceling Sensational Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in favor of publishing three issues of Amazing Spider-Man every month. I’ve got very mixed feelings about that, so it’s time to dust off an old theme I honestly expected to use more often: Good Idea, Bad Idea.

Amazing 539Good Idea! Speeding up the pace of each story arc.

For those of us who still like to buy comics as single issues instead of trades, there’s nothing that ruins a story worse than having to wait a long time between issues. Last week, Jean-Claude Van Doom and I both pointed to the bi-monthly shipping schedule of Justice as a reason our enjoyment of the series was lessened. Civil War at the very least had some wind taken out of its sails due to its constant inability to meet ship dates. Ultimates II got less and less exciting as issues began shipping once a year. Similar shipping problems hurt Wonder Woman, ASSBAR, Action Comics, Young Avengers, Astonishing X-Men and more.

On the flip side, comics that ship faster than normal can make the story more engaging. The countdown to Infinite Crisis probably seemed more dramatic since a new important issue was shipping almost every week. Part of the appeal of Exiles was that it used to ship 18+ issues a year.

Under the new Amazing Spider-Man schedule, a story that would normally take half a year to come out will be done in two months. The first part of the story will still be fairly fresh in your mind when you start to read the final chapter. That aspect of this change has me most excited.

Bad Idea! Only offering one creative team’s take on Spider-Man every month.

Spider-Man fans today have a few different options for what kind of Spider-Man stories they want to read. If they want a more light-hearted, old-school approach, they can pick up Peter David’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. If they want a more dramatic, realistic approach, they can go with J. Michael Stracynski’s Amazing Spider-Man. If they want poorly drawn, badly written stores, they can go with Sensational Spider-Man.

Sure, not all the Spider-Man titles my cup of tea, but they each have a unique voice that appeals to different readers. Surely there are fans that like Sensational more than Amazing, and don’t like Friendly at all. The same is probably true about any configuration of that sentence. And it’s not because of the name of the book. It’s because of the writers and artists behind the books.

ASM529bBad Idea! Forcing readers to choose between buying three Spider-Man comics a month or zero Spider-Man comics a month.

Right now, if a fan doesn’t like the creative team on Amazing Spider-Man but still wants to read a Spider-Man book, Marvel has two other chances to win them over. In a few months, if a reader doesn’t like the creative team behind Amazing Spider-Man and drops the title, Marvel’s out of luck. Marvel is giving readers an ultimatum: read them all or don’t read any of them.

Amazing Spider-Man sold about 120,000 copies in May. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man sold about 50,000 the same month, and Sensational Spider-Man sold about 58,000 in April (it didn’t ship in May). Even if everybody that buys Friendly also buys Sensational and Amazing (which I can personally tell you is not the case), well over half of the readers of Amazing Spider-Man don’t buy three Spider-Man books a month. Why would they start now? Just because Marvel tells them to?

If you already read all three Spider-Man books, I see no reason why you wouldn’t do the same if they were all called Amazing Spider-Man. If you only buy two, it probably would seem like a big deal to get a third (unless, of course, Amazing is the one you don’t buy). But will those readers that only buy one Spider-Man title a month really be willing to fork over three times as much a month to collect the same single title?

Good Idea! Not following DC’s formula for a weekly series.

When DC announced they were doing 52 last year, you knew it was only a matter of time until Marvel put out a weekly series, too. Marvel insisted they wouldn’t do one just because DC was doing one, but you know they were steaming that DC thought of it first. To be fair, it did take a year and a half and a second weekly DC series for Marvel to finally give in to the pressure. And technically this isn’t a weekly series. But even though this is obviously a response to DC’s successful weekly series, I have to give Marvel credit for using the weekly format in a completely different way.

Instead of having a series with about a dozen lead characters with every other character in the universe as the supporting cast, Marvel chose to give their weekly series only one leading character. By focusing only on the relatively small world of Peter Parker, Amazing Spider-Man will be able to tell smaller character-driven stories that aren’t possible when the story literally has the fate of the entire universe resting on its shoulders.

avatarspideyBad Idea! Making it impossible for Amazing Spider-Man to have a regular artist.

I find it strange that Marvel made such a fuss over Steve McNiven finishing Civil War, but they’re not concerned with consistent art on what is arguably their flagship title. No comic book artist can draw three comic books a month. A select few could probably draw two a month, but odds are Amazing Spider-Man will have to have at least three rotating teams of artists to keep up on the new schedule.

Sure, the art teams will probably only change when a new story arc begins. But eventually, one of the teams will get behind. It’s inevitable; at some point, everybody gets behind. When that time comes, does Marvel abandon the three-times-a-month schedule, or do they abandon their “creativity before regularity” mantra? Judging by what Marvel did with most of their comics except for Civil War, they’ll go for a fill-in artist.

Changing art teams every two months on the title is going to be a little jarring. Changing art teams even more often isn’t going to be pretty. Just look at 52; I doubt anyone enjoyed having a new artist every single week. Of course, 52 isn’t a regular series that’s been running for 40+ years. The era of the extended creative run may be over, but I don’t think readers are ready for the era of the two-month creative run.

The Verdict: Good Idea!

So why do I consider this a good idea, even though I had more negative points? Well, even if this doesn’t go off without a hitch, it’s still pretty exciting to have what is essentially a weekly Spider-Man comic. And it’s been a very long time since Spider-Man comics have been exciting.

Amazing Spider-Man has been good for a very long time, but it hasn’t had a tremendous amount of buzz around it. The last time Marvel tried to make Spider-Man into a big deal (The Other), they failed miserably. That story line probably turned off more potential new readers than it attracted.

As long as the first arc in the new shipping schedule is accessible (and not written by Reggie Hudlin), Amazing Spider-Man is bound to pull in quite a few new readers that wouldn’t touch today’s Spider-Man books with a ten-foot pole. The frequency of new issues, the promise that you’ll get a new part of the story for three weeks in a row, will no doubt convince many readers to stick around for at least the first month. After that, who knows?

But here’s the most important reason I consider this move a good idea: Marvel hasn’t said that this is a permanent change. This isn’t a situation where if the plan fails, they have to stick with it. Marvel isn’t locked into 52 issues if the first ten don’t do as well as planned. Marvel can switch back to three different titles whenever they please and say this was never intended to be a permanent change. If it succeeds, good; if it doesn’t, no harm done. That’s a good idea.